Abstract

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Physical activity (PA) is a known preventative factor. It is recommended that children participate in 60 minutes of PA daily, but most do not meet these guidelines. Further, boys, aged 8-17 years, spend more time in PA than girls of the same age. The purposes of this study were to identify gender differences in PA beliefs and practices among fourth and fifth graders and to determine when gender disparities in self-confidence regarding PA and fitness occur.  Subjects were 41 fourth (19 boys; 22 girls) and 33 fifth (16 boys; 17 girls) graders in a public elementary school in the rural northwest. They participated in the FitnessGram, a nationwide assessment of flexibility, aerobic capacity, and muscular strength and endurance, and a proctored survey about their PA beliefs, self-confidence, and participation. There were no differences in FitnessGram data between boys and girls for aerobic capacity or muscular strength and endurance, but girls had increased flexibility when compared to boys in both grades. Importantly, survey results showed fifth grade girls had less confidence they could improve their physical fitness (p = 0.002) or their overall health (p = 0.004) when compared to fourth grade girls. Research is needed to determine how these changes in self-confidence contribute to the gender gap in time spent in PA. We recommend physical education programs throughout all grades teach healthy behaviors, including time spent in PA, and work to build and maintain self-confidence in girls.

Keywords

Physical activity Gender gap Children Self-confidence

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